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Parent Wise

You are your child’s compass

Another tragedy has hit the airwaves and the school hallways. Again the question is raised, “What do I tell my kids?” I addressed this question the best I could — who can ever answer this well? — in my blog, “Look for the Helpers” after Sandy Hook.

This time I want to look at a different angle — one that may hit home a bit more.

When a crisis happens, we naturally express and project our feelings, make assumptions about our children’s experience, and react or respond accordingly. The first question to consider is: How do you feel in the wake of the Boston marathon bombings or any tragedy for that matter? What are you projecting onto your children?

Most parents want their children to grow up able to trust most people and trust the world they are growing into — with discernment and good judgment. It seems to be getting harder and harder to trust our world, so how do we teach our children to trust — or should we?

We want our children to reach their potential, to get the most out of their lives, to experience all they can for their fulfillment and satisfaction. We want them to have open doors in front of them to walk through. Most of all, we want them to feel self-confident — the No. 1 key to successful living. But how much are we holding them back because we are afraid?

Questions to ask yourself:

· Am I keeping my children closer and closer with every tragedy?

· How will my children view their world if their model doesn’t trust it?

· What purpose does my fear serve? How safe can I really keep them by holding them close?

· Am I changing my rules about what is okay for my children to do and experience based on my fear?

How to insure that your children don’t live out your fears:

· Make sure you own your fear and express your concerns to your child as just that — yours.

· Share your fears and worries with a partner or close friend.

· Stick to a few facts when telling your child about tragedy — if your child will inevitably learn about it. Keep media to a bare minimum.

· Watch your child’s behavior to signal how he is dealing with it, rather than assuming he is afraid.

If behavior shows increased anxiety, make sure to allow for feelings to be expressed. If behavior is different but emotions are held in, insure as much relaxed downtime as possible. If you are highly anxious, your child will know it and may keep his own anxiety from you. Be sure someone close to him can handle his feelings.

Do you want your children to face the world each day afraid of what could happen, or prepared to deal with whatever problem might arise? If you don’t allow independence because of your fear, your children won’t learn how to handle difficult situations.

To raise a resilient problem-solver:

· Engage your child in thinking through how she might handle a problem, rather than imposing how you would handle it.

· Encourage you child to speak up for herself, say “no” when she doesn’t want what is being offered or pressured, be aggressive when called for. That means allowing young children to say no to you when they don’t like something you have said or done.

· Teach your children how to walk down the street with confidence. Encourage self-defense programs and body language awareness.

· Allow your children to experience situations in which to solve problems.

· When children express distress over happenings in their lives, ask what they might like to do to take action. Ask, “What can you do to change that?” Even if nothing can be done, allow expression of anger or outrage.

· Focus on the good and look for the heroic stories to tell your children. For instance, so many people ran to the scene to help those hurt, instead of running away.

· Ask, “What do you think you would have done if you had been there? Why?”

We must keep the perspective that tragedies have been happening for as long as the world has been. Plagues and wars, disease and death, violence and evil have always been in the world. And even though the media may tell a different story, tragedies remain infrequent. Let’s not allow those who are determined to hurt ruin life for all of us.

Parent Wise Columnist Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed, is the director of Connective Parenting and founder of The Parent Guidance Center, now The River Center, in Peterborough, where she teaches parent education classes. She is the author of “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons” and “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With.” Email bh@bonnie harris.com. Her website is www.bonnieharris.com.

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